When I was a kid, I used to collect football, baseball, and hockey cards. Part of the fun of collecting cards was trading them with friends or flipping them in an attempt to win more cards.
But, I always had a few of my favorite cards that I kept back, never to trade or flip. They were the "untradeables."
You can apply a similar concept to an NFL roster in an attempt to gauge the strength of that roster.
You know you really have something special in a a player when you absolutely would not trade that player for a single other player at his position in the league. Nada. Not one.
Most teams are lucky to have one or two players that warrant this type of consideration. The Pittsburgh Steelers have at least eight and a strong argument could be made for a couple more.
There are a number of factors that go into this analysis. Skill is obviously the biggest factor meaning what kind of impact the player makes on the field.
Age is another critical consideration. How long will this player be able to play at his current level?
Leadership and character are also important considerations overlooked at a team’s peril.
The status quo wins out in all tiebreakers, simply meaning that you don’t want to trade away a current player and risk damaging locker room chemistry unless you are sure the player you get will succeed at a higher level in your system.
A star in one system can be a dud in another.
One final factor is salary cap implications. This must be factored in. No team can collect all the best players in the salary cap era, so sometimes the best player for a team at a given position is not the best in the league, but the best player for a given salary amount.
So, here are the core Steelers’ players that I would not trade for a single player at their position in the league and my reason why.
Ben Roethlisberger—This is something of a no-brainer. No player on the Steelers generates more comments from fans saying they wouldn’t trade him for anyone. And for good reason.
He is clutch, perfectly fits the Steelers’ system, is young, and is incredibly skilled. The guy just wins.
Even apart from the age issue, neither, in my opinion, would flourish as well as Roethlisberger has in the Steelers’ offense.
Santonio Holmes—Holmes is being judged as the No.2 wide receiver here. Can you think of a better No.2 receiver in the league? Wes Welker? I wouldn’t do it. Anthony Gonzalez? No way. Anquan Boldin? Don’t make me laugh.
The argument could be made that Holmes should be considered a No.1 receiver since he may be transitioning to that role. But, it would be foolish to count Hines Ward out just yet. He likely still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
And, when Holmes does emerge as the No.1 receiver, he can then be evaluated against other No.1 receivers. Even if he was evaluated against the No.1 receiver, there are only a couple in the league who I would definitely take over Holmes, to include Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson.
Heath Miller—Miller has emerged as one of the elite tight ends in the league and arguably the best in the team’s storied history. He is an outstanding pass catcher and blocker. And he is still young. While there are a few tight ends, such as Jason Whitten and Antonio Gates, who are considered to be better, I wouldn’t take any of them ahead of Miller.
Troy Polamalu—Polamalu is easily considered the best strong safety in the league as well as being a high character guy.
The only safety even mentioned in the same breath as Troy is Ed Reed, a free safety. Those are not the same position and they play very different roles for their teams. Reed is more of the ball hawking center fielder. Polamalu is the ultimate hybrid safety who moves all over the field, acting as an extra linebacker on one play and then shifting into more of a cornerback role on the next snap.
He is one of the few defenders in the league who must be accounted for on every snap.
James Harrison—Harrison was named defensive player of the year in 2008 so his skill set is certainly not in doubt. The one knock on Harrison is his age since he is over 30. But, Harrison got a late start to his career, mostly playing on special teams when at all.
So, his age is not as big of a consideration as it might be if he had already started for several years in this league. He is also a workout warrior, showing a complete commitment to football.
Nobody is more intense than Harrison, who looks like a psychotic axe murderer when he stares across the line at the opposing quarterback. And nobody makes more game changing plays. Harrison has earned his spot on the untradeables.
Lamarr Woodley—Harrison’s partner in crime isn’t much of a downgrade. Woodley is still a kid, but he is an absolute wrecking ball, bringing a tremendous amount of pressure opposite Harrison. Quarterbacks have to pick their poison. If they shift away from the Silverback, Woodley is right there waiting.
While there may be a few outside linebackers who are better at this point in their career, Woodley’s combination of skill, youth, and tremendous upside land him safely on this list.
Ike Taylor—Taylor will probably be the most controversial player on this list. Why? Because he has hands of steel, meaning that anything that hits them bounces off like a pinball.
But, Taylor lines up against the best wide receivers in the league week after week and shuts them down, or at least limits their damage. He is still young, meaning he has many great years left.
So, given the chance, why not trade him for one of the more highly regarded cornerbacks, like Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha? Have you seen Asomugha’s salary cap hit? The Steelers couldn’t afford him even if they could broker a straight up trade.
Even at that, I’m not sure any cornerback in the league is that big of an upgrade over Taylor. He is the best shutdown corner the Steelers have fielded since Rod Woodson. Even when he gets beat (as all cornerbacks do), he is usually right there in the neighborhood.
Jeff Reed—No stadium in football is tougher to kick in than Heinz Field. Yet, Reed makes it look effortless time after time. When you find a kicker who is reliable at Heinz Field, you keep him at all costs. End of story. Reed is to clutch kickers what Roethlisberger is to clutch quarterbacks.
There are a few other players who would have made this list a couple years ago but due to age, have slid off the list. Hines Ward, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith are the players who certainly belonged on this list in recent memory.
But, because of their age, I can no longer fairly say that I wouldn’t trade them for another player at their position in the league if given the opportunity.
That is not to take away from what these players still mean to the team. And their skills have not dropped precipitously yet.
Even with the age issue, I still came close to putting Smith on the list because I think he remains one of the best 3—4 defensive ends in the league. But, I couldn’t quite do it.
So, that’s eight guys I would not trade for a single player at their position in the league. Considering a team has 22 starters on offense and defense, that means that the seven offensive and defensive “untradeables” count for about 31 percent of their two key units.
And that isn’t even accounting for such stalwarts as Farrior, Hampton, Smith, and Willie Parker.
No team in the league boasts as many “untradeables” as the Steelers. Some don't boast a single one. That’s why the Steelers have to be considered a good bet to repeat as champions in 2009.